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NC Courage at Washington Spirit: Match preview

The Courage can clinch a playoff spot with a win

Editor’s note: It has been a while since we last check in on the NC Courage, entirely too long in fact and that’s on me. There are some reasons for it, both due to personal time commitments and laziness so if you’ve been let down by a lack of coverage on the team around here, I do apologize for that and know that normal coverage of the team will resume from here on out.

In the seven games since we last checked in with the NC Courage, the team had a small hiccup but has since gone on an absolute tear. After losing two of three between July 1st and July 15th, North Carolina is 4-0-0. In that time they have given up one goal and sit atop the NWSL standings with 39 points and have two games in hand on every team between them and the Houston Dash who sit in 7th place.

This is quite an impressive run of form for the team who has only been outside of the top spot in the NWSL Shield race once since April. They have the fewest goals allowed, with 14 in 18 games, and a respectable if not impressive 26 goals scored in their matches. The defensive form has been a pleasant surprise for a team that many thought would continue to struggle at limiting opponents from putting the ball in the net. That has not been the case obviously as the Courage are averaging less than one goal allowed per game.

Last match: A dominant performance

The last time the Courage played was nearly two weeks ago against the very same Washington Spirit they will face today. It was a terrific overall performance with the Courage rotating a few familiar faces after a midweek game in Seattle. Coach Paul Riley seems to have settled on a 4-2-3-1 and the more defensive formation has been paying off with teams finding few chances to score on the Courage.

Even though they were on the road, Washington controlled most of the possession but failed to breakdown NC over the course of the game. In the attack, the Courage struggled somewhat to settle into the game. The first half saw both teams go to the locker room level a 0-0, but the second half opened with Denise O’Sullivan, who was acquired after she was released by the Houston Dash, set off a play with a pass to Kristen Hamilton who crossed the ball into Ashley Hatch that the rookie put into the net to make 1-0 in the 46th minute. Another ball went into the net thanks to an own goal off or a corner that Spirit forward Cali Farquharson attempted to head out of danger but ended up deflecting off of her teammate Kassey Kallman and into the net.

This week: What to watch for

Well the Spirit are home again after dropping their last match to the visiting Chicago Red Stars. For their part, North Carolina had the match against Houston cancelled over the weekend due to Hurricane Harvey. The unexpected break comes after the Spirit traded midfielder Kristie Mewis, who was not in the 18 for the match on August 19th, to the Chicago Red Stars.

The Spirit continue to have trouble scoring as their play in the final third continues to be lacking. Mallory Pugh has played both as a forward and attacking midfielder, but the attacking players on the team are still struggling to find a rhythm and capitalize on the team’s possession. If North Carolina can continue to stay compact in defense and disrupt the passing lanes against Washington, the Spirit will have a difficult time coming away with a win as they have had a difficult time breaking teams down all year.

For North Carolina’s part, the team will be coming off of a week and a half long break and rust may be an issue in the match. If they aren’t quite at game speed and can’t regain the composure they have shown all season after their unplanned bye week, Washington could sneak in for an early goal. Really, the Spirit have struggled so much this year that the biggest concern for North Carolina in the game will be beating themselves.

As far as in attack, Denise O’Sullivan stepped in nicely in attacking midfield. Debinha has struggled some what after seeming like she might be a candidate for MVP early in the year and O’Sullivan looks like a great pickup for the Courage. It seems like Coach Paul Riley is content to play the 4-2-3-1 he lined up in last time out as the attack has struggled at times. It also gives him the option to use Jess McDonald as a super sub and keep his players rotated and fresh for the playoffs.

Lineup Prediction

Ah yes, that thing that soccer bloggers are wrong about 100% of the time.

The main change from last timeout is getting Makenzy Doniak back on the wing. I will also be as bold to make a score prediction. I don’t think this team will skip a beat after an unplanned by week and Washington should offer some scoring opportunities for the attack: Washington Spirit 1:2 NC Courage.

How to watch

Kickoff: 7:30 PM

Streaming: go90.com and the go90 app as well as on NWSLSoccer.com